Rockets and Revolution: A Cultural History of Early Spaceflight

Rockets and Revolution: A Cultural History of Early Spaceflight

Rockets and Revolution: A Cultural History of Early Spaceflight

Rockets and Revolution: A Cultural History of Early Spaceflight

Synopsis

Rockets and Revolution offers a multifaceted study of the race toward space in the first half of the twentieth century, examining how the Russian, European, and American pioneers competed against one another in the early years to acquire the fundamentals of rocket science, engineer simple rockets, and ultimately prepare the path for human spaceflight.

Between 1903 and 1953, Russia matured in radical and dramatic ways as the tensions and expectations of the Russian revolution drew it both westward and spaceward. European and American industrial capacities became the models to imitate and to surpass. The burden was always on Soviet Russia to catch up--enough to achieve a number of remarkable "firsts" in these years, from the first national rocket society to the first comprehensive surveys of spaceflight. Russia rose to the challenges of its Western rivals time and again, transcending the arenas of science and technology and adapting rocket science to popular culture, science fiction, political ideology, and military programs.

While that race seemed well on its way to achieving the goal of space travel and exploring life on other planets, during the second half of the twentieth century these scientific advances turned back on humankind with the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile and the coming of the Cold War.

Excerpt

Have some fun,
Shooting the heavens by rocket.
Chart your own course,
Take a spin along its parabola.

—VLADIMIR MAIAKOVSKII

The exploration of outer space, one of the more dramatic and complex technical achievements of our time, owes much of its success to a scientific paradigm of relatively distant origins: Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, “to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” This simple precept from the seventeenth century, once it was applied to the rocket engine of the twentieth, helped to launch America’s Apollo missions to the moon. The conquest of space was not some grand “paradigm shift,” some momentous “spaceflight revolution” of our times. It was the result of forces and trends already long at work in our world: in modern astronomy and physics, in artillery ballistics and chemical engineering, in all the many experiments with heavier-than-air flight.

By 1924 Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity represented the true new wave in science and were accorded significant debate in the academic and popular press. But Einstein’s theories were difficult and obscure. A Newtonian universe made more sense to the average readers of modern science and to the rocketry enthusiasts among them, especially in Russia. One popular Soviet text from 1941 . . .

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